14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 14, Morten Lauridsen (or, the Final Two Albums that Helped Me Survive Grad School)

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

And so we’ve reached Day 14 of the 14 Songs in 14 Days challenge. Not to worry—it’s not over yet! As I haven’t been following the rules (oh wait, there weren’t really any rules!) SO far like posting my list to Facebook like the folks that challenged me to do this thing…limiting myself to 14 songs…posting for 14 days (oops, missed a few there!) Based on my count of things/events left just from my quick idea dump in my journal, I probably have another 6–7 posts left in this series. No promises that I’ll keep posting every day, but I’ll do the best I can. The end of the semester approacheth, after all…

At any rate, if we learned nothing else from this exercise—music is clearly of the utmost importance to me.

This evening’s music is drawn from the more challenging choral works from Morten Lauridsen—a composer who is known as the most-performed American choral composer. EMU was supposed to be hosting Lauridsen for our annual Composer-in-Residence/Invitational Choral Festival this month, and we’ve been singing a few of his better known compositions through the year like “Sure on this Shining Night” and “O Magnum Mysterium.”

My love of Lauridsen’s music, like several others from this series, goes back to the UTM choral program days, when we sang “O Magnum,” “Dirait-on” and maybe a couple others during that time. I loved Lauridsen’s compositional language (though I wouldn’t have phrased it so elegantly back in the day): florid, passionate, fiery, powerful. So many exceptional, skillfully written works from Lauridsen. My brother-in-law (also a choral music nerd) had an album of several of Lauridsen’s songs recorded by Nordic Chamber Choir. I’m sad to not have been able to meet him this month; he’s not exactly young, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the chance to do so now.

Following undergrad, I put on my Amazon wishlist a couple of CDs of Lauridsen’s major works recorded by the professional English choir Polyphony, under the direction of Stephen Layton. I think I got both of them for Christmas soon into grad school (I remember getting one for certain from Karen’s mom!), but for some reason didn’t commit to listening to them right away. [It sometimes can be a commitment to really dig into a new album, especially when expectations are high and you know you’ll really want to listen closely.] Then at some point after the two CDs mostly lived in my Toyota Tacoma’s center console for a while (possibly years…) I finally got them out and listen to both. I was subsequently blown away. I knew Lauridsen from his stand-alone pieces like those listed above, and “O Nata Lux” that I had sung with the KCC sextet mentioned yesterday (and that piece is from a larger set, but I didn’t know it). But I didn’t know the full depth of genius in Lauridsen’s writing until I listened to his major works, Lux Aeterna and Mid-Winter Songs. The EMU Choir was supposed to be learning Lux Aeterna for a concert at Orchestra Hall with Lauridsen at the keyboard, I believe was the idea. The idea of missing that experience still has me a bit messed up, so I’m not giving you the YouTube video embeds for that one…you’re on your own.

Instead….

It’s getting to be a little late for the Mid-Winter Songs now that it’s early spring 2020, but if you can stomach being seasonally inappropriate for a bit, give this ~20 minute work a listen. Unfortunately, it seems that album by Polyphony isn’t available online that I could find (and their version is with orchestra—really, far more powerful), but the piano-accompanied version still gives you a taste.

The way Lauridsen brings this work to a conclusion here by coming aural full-circle to much of the same/mimicked material from the first movement never fails to stop my in my tracks. Ughhhhhh I love it so much……

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